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Album Review

The front cover of this recording is a tad misleading. This is not a William Onyeabor album, but the first full-length in Luaka Bop's and Moog's collaborative remix project. Moog actually made William Onyeabor-branded synthesizers for use by the 21 musicians involved. What?! is the initial full-length in a multi-volume series. Onyeabor's versions of these ten tracks all appeared on World Psychedelic Classics, Vol. 5: Who Is William Onyeabor? Interestingly, this is not strictly a remix album; there are a number of covers here too, such as Hot Chip's opening read of "Atomic Bomb." It's quite good, but the raw bassline and snaky guitars criss-crossing with the various rhythm tracks on the original are sorely missed. There are three remixed versions of "Body and Soul" here by Justin Strauss & Bryan Mette, David Terranova, and Scientist. The first is forgettable; the last is a thumping dubwise version; Terranova's is the most compelling because it melds nu-jazz and house in a such a seamless way, and stands in sharp contrast with the original — only the vocal remains, but even its consonance has been turned inside out — it becomes iconic on its own and is arguably the best track on the set. The Vaccines' rework of "Heaven and Hell" (retitled "Do You Want a Man?") contains the original drum breaks, organ, and guitars, but they've all been mixed way down to allow the new synth lines and vocals to come to the fore with a new bridge added. It's far more polished than the source cut, and has its own pop appeal. But it doesn't match the infectiousness, tunefulness, and danceability of the original; it isn't supposed to. The thoroughly revisioned cover of "Why Go to War" by JD Twitch (aka Optimo) uses an exceptionally nasty Moog bassline and funky synthetic organ lines to make it a highlight. Ultimately, What?!, like most remix albums, is a mixed bag. When it works — which is far more often than not — it adds mystery to and a 21st century affirmation of Onyeabor's idiosyncratic and timeless musical vision.

Biography

Born: Lagos, Nigeria

Genre: World

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '10s

William Onyeabor is an iconic figure in the history of Nigerian pop music. He is considered the father of Nigerian electro Afro-funk. His biography has been shrouded in mystery due to his own refusal to discuss it or his music since becoming a born-again Christian in the middle...
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What?!, William Onyeabor
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